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If you want to make the most of your days off and relieve the stress of the workweek, a weekend escape is a perfect way to do it. America is filled with all sorts of weekend travel destinations, whether you’re looking to just relax and unwind, explore budget-friendly destinations or check out historic sites while enjoying some fabulous scenery.
Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California-Nevada border, is a popular weekend destination on the West Coast, offering a variety of outdoor adventures, breathtaking views and, an especially lively nightlife with luxury hotels in South Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side. The West and the North Shore are known for scenery, outdoor activities and lake beaches. While snowboarding and skiing is famous here during the winter, you’ll find a myriad of year-round activities. In the summer, you can hike in the surrounding Sierras, go on a lake cruise, paddle across the water or play volleyball on the sand. There are beaches with restaurants, marinas and water toys, beaches with live music frequently hosting sunset BBQs and more secluded stretches of sand that offer relaxation in the sun – all with unforgettable views of Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada.
Less than a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, there are few places in the world where you’ll find a landscape as dramatically colorful as Sedona with is soaring, fiery red rocks and jagged sandstone buttes that are incredibly striking against the nearly always bright blue skies. The region has been attracting artists and other creative types for decades, while filmmakers have chosen the unique rock formations as the setting for movies like “Midnight Run” and “3:10 to Yuma.” It’s a favorite destination with anyone looking for outdoor adventure, including hiking and jeep tours, as well as sightseeing and even healing – people travel from around the world to experience the swirling centers of energy in this area that are known for being conducive to spiritual healing, meditation and self-exploration.
San Juan Islands, Washington
The San Juan Islands feel like a world away from the mainland. Located just off the west coast of Washington State, they’re easily accessible by a scenic ferry ride or seaplane. San Juan Island, the most populous island in the archipelago, offers lots of exciting things to do, particularly in its charming seaport town of Friday Harbor, where you’ll find unique shops, art galleries and outstanding restaurants, often boasting world-class chefs serving items made with locally-grown ingredients. Enjoy activities like whale watching, touring museums, kayaking, hiking, biking and even visiting a lavender farm or an alpaca farm.
Orcas Island, a green paradise referred to by locals as the “gem of the San Juans,” is home to the highest mountain in the islands. Head to Moran State Park where you’ll find 38 miles of hiking trails, including a trek to Mount Constitution, the island’s highest point, where you can take in a stunning view of the island-dotted waters and snow-capped Mount Baker.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole offers a ton of breathtaking scenery, an abundance of wildlife and lots of opportunities for adventure all year round. The town is world-famous for its ski resorts, and when all that snow melts there are a myriad of hikes available in nearby in Grand Teton National Park and throughout the Snake River Valley. Take the aerial tram that leads from Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous Mountain for especially amazing vistas, and if you’re daring, you can even take a paragliding flight from the tram’s peak, the largest vertical drop in the country. Other activities include whitewater rafting in Snake River Canyon, horseback riding, mountain biking and more. In town, there are world-class restaurants, a wealth of shops and even a thriving nightlife with frequent live entertainment.
Finger Lakes, New York
The Finger Lakes region, easily accessible from major cities like New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and Toronto, is an ideal weekend travel destination with its 11 pristine lakes spread across 9,000 square miles and numerous Thoreau-esque lakeside retreats providing beautiful scenery and lots of outdoor adventure opportunities. Get out on the water in the summer or just enjoy the gorgeous colors of the foliage in the fall. The area is most famous for its wineries, with world-class vineyards producing especially excellent Rieslings, and it’s also home to a number of breweries and hard cider producers. Keep an eye out for its internationally acclaimed annual festivals and be sure to dine on the many farm-to-table culinary delights offered in local restaurants.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is a charming southern city that’s managed to retain the charm of its past while reinventing itself for modern times. The Historic District’s cobbled streets are incredibly alluring, offering something interesting around nearly every corner. While it’s steeped in history, with stately mansions lining the streets evoking thoughts of days gone by, there are plenty of new discoveries, including top-of-the-line eateries, galleries and boutiques. If shopping isn’t what you had in mind, you can learn to standup paddleboard at Charleston SUP Safaris – Charleston’s beaches offer a variety of experiences for everyone.
Estes Park, Colorado
Located right next door to Rocky Mountain National Park, and offering all sorts of activities and attractions of its own, Estes Park is an ideal weekend getaway just a 90-minute drive from Denver. In or outside the park, you’re likely to spot all types of wildlife, like elk and bighorn sheep, and you’ll have access to miles and miles of trails for scenic hikes as well as fantastic fly fishing rivers. In town, browse art galleries, purchase unique items and souvenirs at the shops or visit Fun City where kids and the kid-at-heart can ride a big slide, drive go-karts, play miniature golf or even bungee jump. The famous Stanley Hotel is also located here, a historic landmark for which author Stephen King based his novel, “The Shining.” If you don’t spend the night, you can still check out its museum and dine in its elegant restaurant.
Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona
Lake Powell is frequently found on lists of the best lake vacations in the U.S., and it makes a great weekend getaway with the opportunity to spend your days, and nights, on a houseboat atop the brilliant blue-green water in the red rock desert wilderness. Created by Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona, this massive lake stretches for almost 200 miles into uninhabited southern Utah and features over 80 side canyons that you can often enjoy all to yourself. All types of other water activities are available, like water skiing, jet skiing and parasailing.
Catalina Island, California
Catalina Island is just an hour-long ferry ride from the coast of Southern California, making this picturesque island a perfect weekend escape any time of the year with its moderate climate and a long list of things to see and do. The surrounding waters offer some of the best snorkeling in the continental U.S. and other activities including cycling, hiking, fishing, sailing, kayaking and golfing. Whether you’re on land or on the water, you’re likely to spot sea lions and dolphins, and if you want to spend time indoors, you can shop ‘til you drop.
New York City, New York
A weekend trip to New York City is easily doable from many major cities and offers nearly an endless list of both indoor and outdoor attractions. Take a stroll through Central Park and enjoy some great people-watching, check out the zoo or the Conservatory Garden, or head over to the Upper East Side and fill your day exploring art galleries, museums and historical architecture. If shopping is what you’re after, Soho hosts an array of some of the trendiest shops on the planet, and when you need a break you can visit the New Museum of Contemporary Art which houses remarkable works from across the globe. After dark, enjoy the bright lights of Time Square or take in a Broadway show and cap off a day of fun by heading up to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
This island located just seven miles from the Cape Cod coast has long been a favorite weekend destination. The “Vineyard” as it’s called by locals and regular visitors, is bounded by the Atlantic, Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound, and is the summer home for a number of celebrities, like singer Carly Simon and news anchor Diane Sawyer. If you’re looking for the most authentic feel, the tiny fishing village of Menemsha is a great choice as a place where draggers come in with their nets and lobstermen and fishermen unload their catches. Needless to say, fresh seafood is in abundance, available at several colorful seafood shacks along the harbor. Just some of the activities available here include horseback riding, boating and other watersports, culinary classes, and the chance to watch art glass created by Island artisans.
Door County, Wisconsin
Framed by 300 miles of scenic shoreline, Door County, located between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, is sometimes referred to as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” Enjoy a variety of water sports, including kayaking and paddleboarding, and be sure to walk the 100 steps to the top of Cana Island Lighthouse in Bailey’s Harbor where you’ll be rewarded with amazing vistas. Walking along the rock-ledge shore, you can also take great photos of the 1870s lighthouse. Wine enthusiasts can even sample fine wines at Stone’s Throw Winery in Bailey’s Harbor, which also hosts the Vino Vino Wine Bar which serves Italian tapas and over 300 wines from Italy, California, and its own winery, of course. Throughout the peninsula, you’ll find state parks, charming small towns and roadside cherry stands.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
One of the best places to spend the weekend is the front porch of the iconic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. The world’s largest front porch is 660 feet long and can be seen as you approach the island from the Straits of Mackinac. While it would be easy to wile the days away there, you’ll find lots of other things to do on this peaceful island where no cars are allowed. Take a leisurely carriage ride, hike one of Michigan’s prettiest state parks with its network of 71 miles of trails winding through the woods and limestone outcroppings, or ride a bike on the picture-perfect coastline while listening to the sounds of nature and taking in the sights of dramatic geographic curiosities.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Although it’s just a little over an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park gets only a fraction of the visitors of the region’s two other parks, which means you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery that includes spectacular mountain vistas and cascading waterfalls practically all to yourself. If the outdoors is your thing, this is definitely a great place to spend the weekend, with more than 500 miles of hiking trails as well as nearly 200,000 acres of backcountry for camping. Enjoy wildlife viewing, bird watching, rock climbing, fly fishing and more.
Crystal Coast, Outer Banks, North Carolina
This popular Atlantic beach destination offers a perfect weekend getaway with picturesque silken shores, and even the chance to watch wild horses that race along the sands of Shackleford Banks. The iconic Cape Lookout lighthouse that watches over the Graveyard of the Atlantic bears witness to thousands of sunken ships, including Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and you can check out the relics from the infamous ship at the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Don’t miss the chance to get up close to an albino sea turtle and playful otters at the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and be sure to explore the historic haunts in the three-centuries-old town of Beaufort.
Black Hills, South Dakota
Timeless beauty and outdoor adventure flourish in the Black Hills, located in South Dakota’s southwest corner. With so much to see and do, you could easily spend a week or more here, but if you have only a couple of days, spend it in Custer State Park or Deadwood. One of the nation’s largest state parks, Custer boasts miles of scenic hiking trails, the legendary Scenic Needles Highway, glistening lakes for swimming, fishing and paddle boating, as well as an abundance of wildlife, including wild burros, bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and elk. Just outside the park is iconic Mount Rushmore, a sculpting feat that honors four presidents, while legendary Deadwood is a little less than an hour north, offering gambling, museums and all sorts of Old West entertainment. Take the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway to get there and enjoy 20 miles of craggy cliffs, waterfalls and lush forest along the way – stop at Roughlock Falls, a gorgeous waterfall that was featured in “Dances With Wolves.”
Olympic Peninsula, Washington
The Olympic Peninsula offers everything from hikes through the Olympic National Park’s temperate rainforest and kayaking in Admiralty Bay to beachfront picnics, lighthouses, vineyards, a wildlife park and more. Stay in the Victorian seaport town of Port Townsend and enjoy the best of both worlds, with the water steps from your door and the mountains just a short drive away. The charming town itself is lined with interesting local shops, galleries and cafes, all housed in magnificent period buildings, while buskers can be heard strumming their guitars or plucking a violin. Kayaks can be rented at Fort Worden State Park, which also hosts a number of hiking trails and historic sites as well as a lighthouse. In the evening, you’ll have your choice of fantastic restaurants, many serving dishes based on fresh, local ingredients.
Taos, New Mexico
Taos is famous for its striking scenery, a vibrant mix of Anglo, Hispanic and Native American cultures, and its assortment of artists, artisans and counterculture refugees, making for an especially interesting weekend getaway. The glorious sunsets seem designed to entice both artists and lovers, with creative energy pulsing through this little town of just under 5,000. Its blend of cultural traditions keeps Taos constantly evolving, including everything from the arts to food, with an especially impressive array of eateries that range from mom-and-pop cantinas to creative upscale dining. If there is a must-do, it is visiting the Taos Pueblo, a multi-story adobe village that has been continuously inhabited since pre-Columbian times. While many of the living spaces have been converted into shops for Pueblo Indian craftspeople, the Pueblo Indians have managed to diligently protect and preserve their culture.
Amelia Island, Florida
This barrier island off the northern coast of Florida is home to 12 miles of beautiful beaches that tend to be pretty quiet, especially during the offseason, for those that want to indulge in some peaceful relaxation. It’s also a great place to get active, including riding bicycles on the miles of trails and sidewalks, golfing, horseback riding on the sand, sailing or paddling in the tidal creeks and marshes. The island’s largest state park, Fort Clinch State Park, is home to one of the best-preserved 19th-century forts in the nation as well as a fishing pier, hiking and biking trails, campgrounds and more. History lovers will also appreciate the historic downtown of Fernandina Beach, where you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride and hear about historic points of interest.